Review: Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench


No need to adjust your monitor, you’re seeing the above header correctly. I know it’s hard to believe, but Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench is in fact a black & white movie. It’s a black & white musical (!?) that is being played in one theater in New York (I’m talking a very small two screen theater). Yes sir, we got an indie on our hands.

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench follows Guy and Madeline’s separate journeys after their three month relationship comes to an end. Guy, an aspiring trumpet player, stays in Boston to focus on his music and starts a relationship with Elena, the woman he left Madeline for. In search of a job and some kind of answers, Madeline goes to New York in an attempt to find herself.

This may come as a bit of a shock to everyone, but this is a student film that has been touring festivals and put into theaters. This was actually director/writer Damien Chazelle’s Harvard thesis film before he dropped out in order to focus more on the film. If any of you have gone to film school, you’ve essentially seen this movie. The awful sound quality and uneven lighting, the camera flares and awkward edits, it’s all there. I’d be surprised to find out that this movie wasn’t edited on an old school steam back, but I digress.

Now I’m not usually a stickler for poor production values (a few months ago I was in school producing these same type of films), but for a film that has toured the festival circuit and is now making its way into small theaters, one can expect a little bit of polish. Instead, we get shadows blurring out character emotions and barely audible dialogue overpowered by the camera’s motor and the echo of the room. But it’s cinema verite, and some people are just going to eat that sh*t up. That would be fine and all if there were gravitas to the acting or substance to the story. But alas, there is neither, and as a result we’re just left with sloppy camera work and awkward framing.

The underlying question that’s supposed to be asked throughout the movie is whether or not Guy and Madeline should have broken up. This proves problematic not because their relationship was short (three months) and somewhat meaningless, but because we never really see much of Guy and Madeline as a couple. The film asks that you find the answer to this question through Guy’s new relationship with Elena as well as through songs sung by Madeline, with the latter the only method proving clear cut and entertaining. They tell you that it was a romance for the ages and that there was such explosive chemistry, but we never see the chemistry nor do we see any kind of remnants of said happiness. It doesn’t help that these are ametuer actors as they performances are rather tame and devoid of emotion.

The only redeeming quality that Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench has going for it is its music. Each jam session and elaborate tap dance numbers exemplify the charm this movie was supposed to have. The soundtrack and score is incredibly strong, with all music composed by Chazelle and Justin Hurwitz. It’s here where this film finally shines as the music and lyrics will keep you engaged Sadly, the musical aspect of this film amounts to three short segments, leaving the moments in between dragging.

I didn’t want to have to pick on a student film. In all actuality I wanted to like it.  I can see what Damien Chazzelle was trying to achieve with this movie, and had it been a short I would’ve applauded it for its charm and great jazz influenced numbers. But instead I got a poorly produced film disguising its low quality as being artistic (or verite/mumblecore/dogme/avant garde, whatever you want to call it). It may work for the art house crowd who have been so frayed by the standards of film today that they crave anything that’s low grade and different, but in all actuality this is just a poor movie with amateur actors and an amateur director who put together a couple charming musical numbers.